Councillors have approved an affordable housing development in Cole Harbour despite jeers from neighbours.

The Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council met Thursday and held a public hearing on a proposal from the Dartmouth Non-profit Housing Society.

The government selected the society, which already operates more than 100 units across HRM, to build on a provincially-owned lot at the corner of Circassion Drive and Forest Hills Parkway.

Two concrete jersey barriers block the gravel driveway to an empty lot, with evergeens towering on either side.
The empty lot at 1 Circassion Dr. Credit: Google Street View

The society proposed 18 units in a three-storey building: three one-bedroom units, nine two-bedrooms, and six three-bedrooms.

According to a presentation from Connor Wallace of Zzap Consulting, half of the units — three one-bedrooms, four two-bedrooms, and two three-bedrooms — will rent for 57% to 61% below market value for at least 50 years.

Nick Russell, CEO of the Dartmouth Non-profit Housing Society, said in an email the rents are based on a 30% discount off Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation median rents for the the Woodlawn/Forest Hills/Port Wallace area. The affordable rents, Russell said, would be $577.50 for a one-bedroom, $724.50 for a two-bedroom, and $806.40 for a three-bedroom.

Dartmouth Housing board chair Tim Olive told the community council the society is the largest non-profit housing provider in HRM.

“There’s nothing private sector about this or corporate about it,” Olive said.

“It’s very simply a non-profit agency providing affordable housing … Our primary aim in providing affordable housing is to service the working, the hard-working, tightly-budgeted sector of the economy and the middle income.”

City staff say yes, some neighbours say no

Municipal planner Taylor MacIntosh recommended in favour of the project in a report to the community council. MacIntosh noted there were concerns from neighbours around limited parking (the society proposed 14 spots), increased traffic, and privacy.

An architectural rendering shows a modern three-storey building on a sunny day. People are seen around a courtyard with bikes, a BBQ, a wheelbarrow, and balloons.
A rendering showing the planned backyard of Dartmouth Non-profit Housing’s 18-unit building at 1 Circassion Dr. Credit: HRM/Zzap Consulting

Eight speakers, including society board chair Tim Olive, addressed councillors, and three of them were outright opposed.

“This community cannot handle any more,” said Terry Sullivan, who told councillors he’s lived on Circassion Drive for 35 years and complained about traffic.

“It’s just too congested over there. It is not a good spot for that 18-unit building.”

Carmen and Les Smith told councillors they own two properties bordering directly on the lot. They rent one of them.

“My concern is the privacy, where we’re going to have apartments now looking into our direct backyard,” Carmen Smith said.

“It’s going to take the property value of our place down, where you’re going to have low income right in front of us,” Les Smith said.

Board chair responds

Olive responded to some of those concerns.

“I know when you first hear about something like this, you think, ‘Oh man, it’s going to be all low-income people and it’s going to be a mess,'” Olive said.

“Well, I can tell it’s not going to be a mess. As part of the rules, it can’t be a mess. It will be a mixed-use building, different levels of income. All hard-working families that can’t pay $1,500 a month rent, raise two kids, can’t do it. There’s hundreds of them around. Our idea is to try and address that issue.”

Joseph Kirby of Dartmouth told councillors this is the exact kind of housing HRM needs.

“If you all vote in favour of this, or if most of you vote in favour of this, the second that this is done, those units are gone,”Kirby said.

“They’re going to be filled up right away with, as the gentleman [Olive] said, working class people who are here to contribute to our society and make our society better.”

Area councillor in support

Coun. Trish Purdy, chair of the community council and the representative for the Cole Harbour area, agreed the development is badly needed.

“It’s desperately needed,” Purdy said.

“I am in favour of this, and I know it’s hard for the residents that live on the street. I understand the difficulty of the cramped streets and the parking issues and that tight turn and corner. It is not ideal, but I believe the need the need far outweighs that.”

As it became clear Purdy would support the development, some in the audience started heckling. The Halifax Examiner didn’t attend the meeting in person, covering it via the livestream, but the heckling could be heard on video.

“What a joke,” one man said.

“Shameful, shameful,” said a woman.

Coun. Tony Mancini eventually rose to escort those people out of the meeting.

Deputy Mayor Sam Austin supported the development.

“It’s easy not to be sympathetic after that ridiculous display,” Austin said.

Austin suggested, in the interest of privacy for residents like the Smiths, the society plant trees in the backyard.

“It’s an investment in good neighbours and I think, even if neighbours’ tempers are high right now, we all have to live together and that would be a good thing to do for the community,” Austin said.

The motion to approve the development agreement passed unanimously, though Mancini had to abstain because he was late.

‘Bigoted comments’ from Eastern Passage NIMBY

The community council held a second public hearing Thursday night on a development in Eastern Passage, approving 94 units on Shore Road.

Happy Cities proposed the development on behalf of Blue Ocean Estate Holdings, owned by Mohamed Elokda.

Houssam Elokda of Happy Cities presented the plan to the community council, explaining that the developer threw out an old plan for Blue Ocean Estates in favour of a more walkable one.

The plan calls for two four-storey, 12-unit residential buildings at the front of the property with commercial space in the ground floor, along with two more four-storey buildings containing “stacked townhouses” with six units each. Behind those buildings, Elokda proposed another 40 townhouses and 18 single-unit dwellings. There’s also park space and a path connecting to the elementary school behind the property.

An overhead rendering shows a community of colourful buildings near a shoreline. There's a school in the background, and clusters of single family homes on either side.
A rendering of the plan for Blue Ocean Estates. Credit: Happy Cities

A handful of neighbours argued there’s too much traffic in Eastern Passage, and it’s a bad fit for the community.

“You have to take into account who’s planning this,” Mary Sharma told councillors, speaking of an online meeting she attended.

“This gentleman and his brother said they had grown up in Cairo, Egypt. I don’t know what Cairo’s like, but to me, that’s a high density area, and they were able to play out in the street and all this other stuff. Well, you can’t take a piece of Cairo, and set it down in Eastern Passage.”

Councillor says sorry

Coun. Becky Kent, who represents Eastern Passage, apologized for Sharma’s remarks.

“I absolutely want to acknowledge and apologize … for what I consider to be bigoted comments. That’s my opinion,” Kent said.

“I want to apologize for your experience here today, and hope that that would never happen to you or anyone else that visited this chamber.”

Kent supported the proposal, and it passed unanimously.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. I will never understand why affordable housing isn’t integrated into every new multiple unit housing development. In 2000 the French Government stipulated 20 to 25% of all new construction be affordable, France has built 1.8 million units since then. Somehow developers didnt go broke and no stigma for low income residence. Win/Win

  2. We’re in a housing crisis, yet none of the people complaining here have to worry because they already have houses. They’re worried, they’re angry that they might have new neighbours, a slight increase in traffic. Life would be great if these first world problems were the only ones that our country currently faces. It’s all a classic case of “I’ve got mine”.

  3. The first thing that struck me was that there is clearly an element of “class” prejudice that is alive and well in our Canadian society. I wonder to what degree this has compromised our progress on socioeconomic issues.

    As the climate crisis worsens, I read about new builds like that described herein, and I wonder how much longer we as a society will persist in effectively building out, not up and continue with building materials that have significantly exacerbated the climate disaster. Yes, this proposed build has three story structures: this is a step forward but it is not significantly progressive to keep pace with the run-away climate.

    We cannot continue with old building approaches in compliance with building codes that do not reflect the battle in which we are engaged with reversing, or even stalling, the climate patterns that are so rapidly evolving. For example, there are exceptional hemp building products that we could utilize with the beauty being we could reduce our annihilation of our life-saving forests while realizing the benefits of two crops per year here in NS.

    Building out means further loss of biodiversity, increased need for infrastructure such as electrical grids, sewer, water, etc. Building up, especially if we recognized the advantages of leveraging existing city blocks comprised of detached dwellings with foundational infrastructure upon which to build multi-story structures. Yes, we would have to expropriate/buy them, and, yes, that would have challenges, but spreading out further and further with detached/semi-detached dwellings appears to be simply unsustainable.

    Our thinking in Canada poses the greatest obstacle to us making progress in key areas of our survival and our societal evolution: we are so slow to evolve our thinking. Our patterns of thinking have been instilled in us over multiple generations, they are comfortable, and change is inherently uncomfortable. But, change we must if we are to survive this climate chaos, let alone flourish.